A D enver  high  school  offered  parents  the  alternative  to  keep  their  kids  out  of  a  Black  History  Month  assembly.  The  outrage  prompted  a  policy  modification.

A D enver high school offered parents the alternative to keep their kids out of a Black History Month assembly. The outrage prompted a policy modification.

By Anne Rowe for DPS board, March 15, 2019

Parents of students at Denver’s George Washington High School no longer will be offered the option to keep their children from participating in person school assemblies after an opt-out type for a Black History Month occasion drew community outrage.

On Tuesday, George Washington moms and dads were sent out an emailed newsletter that referenced the school’s “African-American Heritage Month assembly” in March that included a form enabling them to opt their kids out of participating in the event.

“Students who opt-out of the assembly will be supervised in the library for the duration of the assembly and will return to their second-period class at the conclusion of the assembly to continue the school day,” the letter to moms and dads checks out.

In a follow-up message to parents, Principal Kristin Waters wrote that the opt-out type was standard for any all-school assembly at George Washington High.

Parents and neighborhood members began calling the school and the Denver Public Schools district workplaces to reveal dissatisfaction in making an assembly centered around black heritage optional.

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Hasira Ashemu — co-founder of the education advocacy group Our Voice, Our Schools — stated parents began getting in touch with him with the opt-out details, understanding he is vocal about social justice movements within Denver Public Schools.

Ashemu posted about the circumstance in a Facebook group complete of Denver instructors, moms and dads, administrators and community members in an effort to activate action and discussion around the matter.

“I desired to articulate the specific concern in this instance, but also put it into a more systemic-wide context,” Ashemu stated. “I wasn’t assaulting the principal of GW. It’s more so understanding that this is the overall equity problem that DPS is suffering from, especially when it comes to black moms and dads, students and staff members of DPS.”

Less than a week ago, the Denver Board of Education all passed a resolution requiring every public school in the district to produce a plan to improve the success of its black and African-American trainees, Chalkbeat Colorado reported.

Following neighborhood concerns, Waters sent out a message to parents Wednesday saying that George Washington High School is now getting rid of its assembly opt-out policy and that all trainees will be needed to participate in educational assemblies.

“As we continue the essential work of dismantling systemic bigotry, segregation and injustice in education, and specifically at George Washington High School, we appreciate our neighborhood holding us liable,” Waters composed. “To expand the perspectives and learning opportunities for all of our trainees, it is counter-productive to promote the opportunity to opt-out of an assembly analyzing any part of history, culture or current events.”

Waters could not right away be reached for comment. It was not understood whether any moms and dads had chose their kids out of the Black History Month assembly prior to that choice was rescinded.

“After hearing the concerns expressed by George Washington High School families, school leaders reacted as quickly as possible to proper the assembly opt-out policy so that it better reflects the school’s dedication to all trainees,” Denver Public Schools spokesperson Will Jones said in a declaration. “The school deeply appreciates the GW neighborhood for offering feedback and advocacy, and is grateful for the chance to remedy this.”

Yasiris Torres, a George Washington High School teacher, said she and another instructor notified Waters about the neighborhood’s unfavorable reaction to the opt-out form.

Torres stated Waters and many others within the school are working on inclusivity and are presently talking about ways to much better include trainees of color into the high school’s international baccalaureate program.

“It’s quite segregated right now,” Torres stated. “It’s primarily white kids in the program, and we’re attempting to stop that divide and consist of everybody.”

Torres stated she sees the difficult work the school is doing to address variety — like having assemblies focused on LGBTQ issues — and feels that Waters’ removal of the capability to opt-out was the right choice.

“It reveals she’s listening to the neighborhood,” Torres stated.

Ashemu likened the results to the same Denver education motion that garnered nationwide attention through a three-day instructor strike earlier this month.

“What I hope will start to program those who are not already in the movement is that when we stick together and when we raise our voices, focused in justice without all of the divisive and accusatory language that pervades the higher society, that we can be heard,” Ashemu stated. “I hope GW and Dr. Waters’ administration can specifically serve as a working example of what it looks like to have black, brown, bad, working-class people supporter for themselves inside of an organization and have that organization respond in such a method that it becomes responsive to the inmost requires of equity for all kids.”